IN THE SPOTLIGHT: “Because there are people way worse off than you.” The West Wing Weekly Podcast

Since the moment THE WEST WING pilot appeared on television on September 22, 1999, I was hooked.

Twenty-two years later, I am still hooked. And, thanks to Cheryl Dowd for recommending THE WEST WING WEEKLY podcast, my deep interest has been fiercely reignited. I love the characters Aaron Sorkin created and molded with his fine team of directors and actors. They seem so real.

It also doesn’t hurt that three of the key actors, Allison Janney, Rob Lowe, and Martin Sheen are all from about a three mile radius of where I currently live. It’s like watching my Oakwood (Janney and Lowe) and Kettering (Sheen) neighbors in action.

On the current podcast interview, former TWW actor, Josh Malina, and fellow podcaster, Hrishikesh Hirway, are interviewing Martin Sheen. Mr. Sheen stated his favorite episode was “Two Cathedrals” where he prepares for the funeral of his formidable secretary and life-long friend, Delores Landingham. It’s powerful. It’s somewhat chilling.

In this scene, Mrs. Landingham reappears to “talk some sense into Jeb.” She had been President Bartlet’s (played by Sheen) father’s dean of students secretary at a prestigious boys’ academy, and had moved on to work with, and for Josiah “Jeb” Bartlet in The White House.

I am posting the portion of the scene, as well as the video.

THE WEST WING
"TWO CATHEDRALS"
WRITTEN BY AARON SORKIN
DIRECTED BY THOMAS SCHLAMME

CUT TO: INT. THE OVAL OFFICE - NIGHT President Bartlet closes the door behind C.J. in THE OVAL OFFICE. Thunder roars.  Bartlet walks to lean on his desk and places his hands among the many pictures on it.  Suddenly, the wind blows the portico door wide open and rain pours in. 
BARTLET Ah... Damn it! Mrs. Landingham! 
[He turns away, realizing she won't come to his call, and then the door opens...]
MRS. LANDINGHAM  [walks in, small and resolute] I really wish you wouldn't shout, Mr. President. 
BARTLET  [beat, as he looks at her in disbelief] The door keeps blowing open. 
MRS. LANDINGHAM Yes, but there's an intercom and you could use it to call me at my desk. 
BARTLET I was... 
MRS. LANDINGHAM You don't know how to use the intercom. 
BARTLET It's not that I don't know how to use it, it's just that I haven't learned yet.  
[She looks at him and he smiles shyly, as if he's been caught lying.] 
BARTLET I have M.S., and I didn't tell anybody. 
MRS. LANDINGHAM Yeah. So, you're having a little bit of a day. BARTLET You're gonna make jokes? 
MRS. LANDINGHAM God doesn't make cars crash, and you know it. Stop using me as an excuse. 
BARTLET  [motions her to sit and sits down] The party's not going to want me to run. 
MRS. LANDINGHAM The party'll come back. You'll get them back. 
BARTLET I've got a secret for you, Mrs. Landingham. I've never been the most popular guy in the  Democratic Party. 
MRS. LANDINGHAM  [sits opposite from him] I've got a secret for you, Mr. President, your father was a prick who could never get over the fact that he wasn't as smart as his brothers. Are you in a tough spot? Yes. Do I feel sorry for you? I do not. Why? Because there are  people way worse off than you. 
BARTLET Give me numbers. 
MRS. LANDINGHAM I don't know numbers. You give them to me. 
BARTLET How about a child born this minute has a one in five chance of being born into poverty? 
MRS. LANDINGHAM How many Americans don't have health insurance? 
BARTLET 44 million. 
MRS. LANDINGHAM What's the number one cause of death for black men under 35? 
BARTLET Homicide. 
MRS. LANDINGHAM How many Americans are behind bars? 
BARTLET Three million. 
MRS. LANDINGHAM How many Americans are drug addicts? 
BARTLET Five million. 
MRS. LANDINGHAM And one of five kids in poverty? 
BARTLET That's 13 million American children. From a shot up top, we see President Bartlet is talking, and the opposite chair is empty. BARTLET Three and a half million kids go to schools that are literally falling apart. We need 127 billion in school construction, and we need it today! 
MRS. LANDINGHAM To say nothing of 53 people trapped in an embassy. 
BARTLET Yes. 
MRS. LANDINGHAM You know, if you don't want to run again, I respect that. [stands up] But if you don't run 'cause you think it's gonna be too hard or you think you're gonna lose... well, God, Jed, I don't even want to know you. 
[Mrs. Landingham walks out and gently closes the Oval Office door behind her. President Bartlet stands, walks into the open door onto the portico and lets the wind blow on him and the rain wash over his face. He looks up into the sky. Music starts.]

The most powerful dialogue that truly resonates with me is:

BARTLET I have M.S., and I didn't tell anybody. 
MRS. LANDINGHAM Yeah. So, you're having a little bit of a day. 
... 
MRS. LANDINGHAM  [sits opposite from him] ... Are  you in a tough spot? Yes. Do I feel sorry for you? I do not. Why? Because there are  people way worse off than you. 

“Because there are people way worse off than you.” (Mrs. Landingham to President Bartlet)

I remember sitting next to my great-aunt, Bonnie Barmes, at a family gathering in the late 1980s. At that time, Aunt Bonnie had battled cancer for approximately 3-5 years; what is more, she is still bravely looking the beast in the eyes and always moving it to the side. She is so doggone tough.

We sat in the large gathering room and listened to groupings of family members who seemed to play this conversational game of “who has it worse?”

Mother had always stressed to any complainers, “you don’t have it that bad; there are too many others suffering far worse than you.” It always seemed like an appropriate moment for her to finish her stricture with “so, suck it up, Buttercup.” She did not.

One relative began discussing how frustrated they were with their lawn care company. As they vented the room with exhausting complaints, Aunt Bonnie leaned toward me and softly said that these gripes we’d witnessed seemed so dwarfed in the whole scheme of things thrown in our paths by life.

In these past 35+ years of her never ceasing battles with cancer, several of which recaptured the powerful, yet doubtful David and Goliath scene, I have never heard Aunt Bonnie mention her cancer, nor seem gruff at the hand life has dealt. She is always fastidious with hard work, serving others, and defining the ministry of Christ with her actions.

Aunt Bonnie is a damned great role model.

“Because there are people way worse off than you.”

I feel as though I hear a continuous echo of “how hard life is.” However, it’s not really coming from those who, on the surface, seem to have it hard. It’s more about interruptions. I know there are countless individuals and families who are struggling in so many ways, and on so many levels, yet, they are the ones who remain positive and silent.

“Because there are people way worse off than you.”

Every time I re-listen to this particular scene from THE WEST WING, Mrs. Landingham’s line sternly cautions me to look past anything tugging at me, coaxing me to bathe in misery. My mother, and her parents, raised me better.

“Because there are people way worse off than you.”

About Wright Flyer Guy

Darin is a single adoptive father, a teacher, playwright, and musical theatre director from Kettering, Ohio.
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